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https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/b/BonnieHenderson/01/l/1451713664si0nf.jpgThis week signals the official start of summer, which also means — it’s state bar convention time! The annual silly season has begun.

In addition to being the last continuing legal education money grab for state bars before the fiscal year ends, it’s also the annual “orgy of self-adulation”like the Oscars for bar insiders and connected elites.

Lawyers you never heard of — chosen by who-knows-who — will get awards only recipients will care about.

And oh, yeah incoming bar leaders will fatuously speechify after being pompously sworn in.

The Texas, South Dakota and Wisconsin Bar Annual Conventions started this week. Next week Arizona holds its 2018 State Bar of Arizona Annual Convention.

Termed its “flagship event,” Arizona conventioneers can anticipate at least a partial antidote to the rest of the Butt-Numb-A-Thon with a Thursday Party and the State Bar’s “Lawyers Got Talent” Contest.” And the jokes almost write themselves — a lawyer amateur talent show.

Anyhow, if there’s a dance competition, I hope these guys show up. They’re among Arizona’s cheekiest, ineradicable personal injury advertisers. Ka-ching! — they even bought a full-page color ad in the convention brochure. And with dance steps like these, how can they miss?

The Naked Truth.

In truth, the silliness started months ago. In March, the Utah State Bar inadvertently emailed a photo of a topless woman to every lawyer in the state to herald its upcoming Spring Bar Convention.

ABA Journal recounted, “The message, sent to all active Utah lawyers, was intended to promote the bar’s spring convention, reported the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News and Above the Law, which posted the email and the nude photo (not safe for work) here. The email also included photos of a clothed Lady Justice statue and a rock formation.”

Embarrassed bar officials tweeted “Apologies to all who received an inappropriate email from the Utah State Bar. We are aware of the situation and are investigating the matter.”

And underscoring how you can’t make this stuff up, the Utah Spring Bar Convention kickoff reception also featured, “the 16th Annual “Secret Lives of Lawyers” Silent Auction.” See “Utah State Bar sends every local lawyer an email of a topless woman.”

Parenthetically, the Utah Bar holds not just one yearly convention — but two. The Summer Convention is July 25-28 in St. George — undoubtedly with new safeguards to prevent another bare-chested recurrence.

‘How do I love me . . . let me count the ways.’

Generally speaking, bar conventions are not well attended. Well under 10% of the bar’s lawyers, for example, annually attend in Arizona and even fewer in Nevada. This is unlikely to improve, especially for Nevada, which continues to price itself out of reach of many members by holding conventions in expensive venues.

Last year’s convention was in Austin and the year before it was Hawaii. This year’s paean to self-congratulation is next month at Chicago’s iconic Drake Hotel. Registration for the Nevada Bar Convention comes in at a hefty $590 per registrant — likely the most expensive registration of any bar annual meeting this year.

Those paying the hefty fee on top of airfare and hotel expenses can at least look to their inclusion at the President’s Dinner. According to the convention brochure, “This semi-formal (black tie optional) event celebrates the recipients of the 2018 State Bar of Nevada’s Membership Awards and incoming bar President Rick Pocker, who will become the state bar’s 90th president. In addition to a plated meal, guests will be able to enjoy entertainment and dancing, as well as a red-carpet style photographed entrance.”

Not to be outdone, though, the Arizona Bar will similarly fete its incoming president and dole out member awards only the recipients care about. And why not? Patting yourself on the back is part and parcel of these annual meetings.

With a hat tip to my buddy, The Legal Watchdog, Wisconsin’s 2018 Annual Meeting & Conference starts June 21st and apparently still scrounging for attendees, bar cheeseheads mistakenly curtailed the registration deadline before extending it to the penultimate day.

And in a rather ironic programming twist, one of the plenary speakers is P.J. O’Rourke, “author, humorist, and political satirist.” I hope he includes some of his most quotable observations about hubris — “one of the great renewable resources” as well as his pointed observations on bureaucracy, greed, and power — in other words all the traits of a compulsory membership bar association.

I suspect, however, there may be limits to the silliness in Lake Geneva, WI. O’Rourke will probably leave out his lawyer jokes such as this chestnut: “During the mid-1980s dairy farmers decided there was too much cheap milk at the supermarket. So the government bought and slaughtered 1.6 million dairy cows. How come the government never does anything like this with lawyers?”

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Credits: silly, bonnie henderson at morguefile.com; Thank You Gif via Tenor; Blog OMG! by Mike Licht at Flickr Creative Commons attribution; Shocking!!! “that guy isn’t wearing pants,” by Chuck Olson, Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.

 

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I have to confess. I had no idea that for at least 20 years judges in some U.S. criminal courts have quite literally been shocking defendants with 50,000 volts of electricity when the judge deems the defendant to be out of line. It happens incredibly enough in jurisdictions where the criminally accused can be required to wear battery operated remote-controlled stun cuffs or shock belts to court. At the command of the judge, a bailiff or law enforcement officer presses the stun button.

Unimaginably, this is the stuff of the totalitarian state — an exclamation point putting the banana in banana republic.

It takes but a few online clicks to quickly turn up instances where it’s happened — no aberration for those paying attention. A couple of years ago there was the one caught on tape in Maryland. In that case, though, the judge was disciplined and removed from the bench. See Ex-judge who ordered man to be hit with stun gun pays fine

 

Embracing “savage measures.”

Ironically, it was also 20 years ago that I first read and saved a quote by Cesare Beccaria. He was an 18th century economist, philosopher, and criminologist whose words immediately came to mind when I read last week about another judicially administered electric shock in the courtroom. This time the news concerned the Texas Eighth Court of Appeals throwing out the conviction of Terry Lee Morris on the grounds that the electric shocks ordered by Tarrant County District Judge George Gallagher and Morris’s subsequent courtroom removal had violated his constitutional rights. Beccaria declared, “Societies seeking to moderate human conduct should not embrace savage measures.”

Hat tip to my buddy at The Legal Watchdog for emailing me about the Morris case. Also see ‘Barbarism’: Texas judge ordered electric shocks to silence man on trial. Conviction thrown out and Court Throws Out Conviction Of Texas Man Who Was Given Electrical Shocks By A Judge For Failing To “Follow The Rules”

Not having had any experience in the criminal courts, I had no idea some of the black-robed had been given this much power to physically punish the not yet convicted.

Where permitted, it’s left to the subjective discretion of the judge who decides if and when a defendant is being mouthy, difficult or otherwise ‘unmanageable.’ The justification for administering electrical shocks is “security.” But from the reports I’ve read too often the so-called threat to courtroom security falls more on the order of a garrulous defendant who has managed to annoy the judge.

Fortunately, not all jurisdictions allow the use of stun cuffs and shock belts in court. Indeed, four years after the first use of an electric security belt in Los Angeles County, in 2002 the California Supreme Court effectively banned their use during criminal trials. They were likewise barred in Indiana — but not so Texas.

And here I was previously exercised about judges with a penchant for shackling defense lawyers. That sanction pales by comparison to shock treatment. Just the same, let’s hope there’s never a time when handcuffing defense lawyers becomes an insufficient imposition and that instead further discretion is given to hit recalcitrant counsel with 50,000 volts of proper comportment.

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On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that government, in this instance, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) may not refuse to register potentially offensive names under a law against registering trademarks likely to disparage people or groups.

The case, Matal v. Tam, strengthens the case against state bar associations seeking to further trample lawyer First Amendment rights via ABA Model Rule 8.4(g). For more about the ABA’s misguided decision “to discipline lawyers who engage in politically incorrect speech,” see “The ABA’s Control Over What Lawyers Say Around the Water Cooler.”

The Nevada Bar, for one, has petitioned its state supreme court to adopt a new lawyer speech code to punish Nevada attorneys for what newly weaponized lawyer disciplinary authorities subjectively deem “derogatory,” “demeaning,” or “harmful” speech“related to the practice of law.” Matal v. Tam renders the viewpoint discrimination enshrined by such a proposed rule presumptively unconstitutional.

Nonetheless, how much ultimate weight state supreme courts give to Matal v. Tam on such matters will depend on the jurists’ ability to temper the agenda-driven viewpoint of lawyers as sui generis ‘special snowflakes.’ Under this rubric, lawyers are expected to unreservedly pay for their ‘privilege’ with constraints on their Constitutional rights not visited upon any other profession.

Whether as agents of the state, i.e., ‘officers of the court,’ or as “public citizens” as the ABA Report describes them, lawyers are expected to tolerate the continued erosion of their rights, especially with respect to the First Amendment. See here, here, here and here and additionally, The Intersection of Free Speech and the Legal Profession; Constraints on Lawyers’ First Amendment Rights. It’s way past time for lawyers to say “Enough!”

Matal v. Tam.

In 2011, Simon Tam, the founding member of the Asian-American dance-rock band, The Slants, tried to register the band’s name with the PTO. His application was denied based on a federal law prohibiting the registration of trademarks that may “disparage . . . or bring . . . into contemp[t] or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead.” 15 U. S. C. §1052(a).

Tam characterized his trademark registration as an attempt to reclaim a slur and use it as “a badge of pride.” Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “We now hold that this provision violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”

Student free speech.

Writing today at “The Legal Watchdog,” notable Wisconsin defense attorney Michael Cicchini trenchantly points out at “Free speech: A message for public universities (and their students) how Matal v. Tam should help curb free speech constraints currently the rage among do-gooding bureaucrats at public universities. Quoting from the opinion, Cicchini illustrates how There is no hate-speech exception to the First Amendment;”  “You can’t suppress speech you don’t agree with;” and “You should be thankful that you can’t suppress speech you don’t agree with.” His entire post bears reading.

Finally, some have inanely suggested the case is one for folks on the Right to applaud, e.g., “Today in Conservative Media: Applause for a Free Speech Victory at the Supreme Court.” To which, I rejoin, when did the U.S. Constitution and specifically, our fundamental rights become the exclusive purview or calling of one side of the political spectrum?

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Photo credits: Seal of the U.S. Supreme Court, by DonkeyHotey at Flickr Attribution; “sad emoticon,” by shamaasa  at Flickr Attribution; “Resusci-Annie’s Children Remark On the Effectiveness of the First Amendment,” by John Scalzi at Flickr Attribution.

 

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Had I waited another day, I could’ve added one more head shake to my last post. Last night, the Arizona Republic reported Jodi Arias prosecutor Juan Martinez would not be disciplined over the publication of his book about the Jodi Arias murder trial.

Several bar complaints were separately filed against Martinez last year in connection to the internationally notorious murder case. In its story, the Republic makes particular mention of the bar complaint filed by the local defense lawyer bar that in part accused Martinez of violating ethical rules regarding “the existence and content of certain exhibits previously sealed by court order.”

There’s little doubt the complaining defense lawyers aren’t pleased with the decision of the Arizona Supreme Court’s Attorney Probable Cause Discipline Committee. The Committee reviews Arizona State Bar recommendations for attorney discipline.

It is also a group which parenthetically happens to have a petition pending before the Arizona Supreme Court that would permit the imprudent entrenchment of its current membership by removing the two consecutive three-year limitation on members’ terms of office.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c8/%22As_we_see_%27em%2C%22_a_volume_of_cartoons_and_caricatures_of_Los_Angeles_citizens_%281900%29_%2814589842549%29.jpg/163px-%22As_we_see_%27em%2C%22_a_volume_of_cartoons_and_caricatures_of_Los_Angeles_citizens_%281900%29_%2814589842549%29.jpg

According to the news report, the Committee dismissed a charge filed against Deputy Maricopa County Attorney Juan Martinez for writing the book, Conviction: The Untold Story of Putting Jodi Arias Behind Bars.

The story quotes from the Committee’s decision, “This matter is being dismissed as respondent obtained permission from his employer to disseminate information relative to his representation in the state v. Arias case. Similarly, while his book made general reference to the existence of sealed testimony and exhibits, the references did not contain specific content and was, in some circumstances, publicly available despite the court order(s) sealing the testimony and exhibits.”

Interestingly, demonstrating that book writing about a trial is not the sole province of the prosecution, Arias’ former defense lawyer Kirk Nurmi was disciplined over an ethical violation involving publication of a ‘tell all’ book without client consent, Trapped with Ms. Arias: Part 1 of 3 From Getting the File to Being Ready for Trial.  However, in Nurmi’s case, the sanction was disbarment. See “Jodi Arias’ defense lawyer agrees to be disbarred over tell-all book rather than face disciplinary hearings”

There’s an ethical rule, ER 1.9, that prohibits a lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter from thereafter using information relating to the representation to the disadvantage of the former client except as permitted by the ethical rules “or when the information has become generally known.” The trick, of course, comes in defining what is “generally known.”

The rule is not without its critics, one of the most notable being Michael Cicchini. Also see Cicchini’s “On the Absurdity of Model Rule 1.9,” 40 Vermont L. Rev. 69 (2015) and his “Petition to Modify SCR 20:1.9(c).” filed last year with the Wisconsin Supreme Court

File:"As we see 'em," a volume of cartoons and caricatures of Los Angeles citizens (1900) (14773300391).jpgVagaries of Proportionality.

There are rules governing the imposition of lawyer discipline. But when it comes to when and how those rules are applied, weighted, and especially how sanctions are proportioned remains anybody’s guess. One wonders, for instance, if another lawyer similarly situated but less well-known than Martinez would have received the same pass on discipline?

No less than the Arizona Supreme Court has recognized that when it comes to reviewing similar cases to assess the proportionality of the recommended sanction, proportionality review is “an imperfect process.” In re Owens, 182 Ariz. 121, 127, 893 P.3d 1284, 1290 (1995). This is because no two cases “are ever alike.” Id

Frankly, there are times when the sanction meted out appears to bear little resemblance to so-called similar cases. See, for example, the disciplinary case of Edward Moriarity where pursuant to a settlement the accused attorney was disbarred in Arizona — a sanction no other reciprocal jurisdiction opted to follow. Indeed, the sanction was subsequently criticized by a federal judge as noted in Board of Prof’l Responsibility v. Moriarity 345 P.3d 51 (2015). Also see “Wyoming Supreme Court Censures Montana Attorney.”

After reviewing the attorney’s notification of the Arizona disbarment, Judge Dana L. Christensen, Chief United States District Judge for the District of Montana, issued an order declining “to impose any discipline at this time. However, if the Montana Supreme Court decides to levy discipline, this Court will revisit the matter at that time.” Moreover, Judge Christensen discussed “substantial reasons not to order identical discipline” not the least being that it “was grossly disproportionate to Moriarity’s alleged misconduct.”

To further make his point, the judge cited an earlier case where the Arizona Supreme Court had suspended an attorney for six months after the attorney was found to have filed multiple frivolous actions over the course of several years whereas by contrast, Moriarity was disbarred on the accusation of having filed “only one frivolous lawsuit.”

To protect not to punish.

File:Stuart Chapin and Company (3093686330).jpgHas there ever been a disciplined lawyer — let alone a zealous bar counsel prosecutor — that hasn’t deemed the sanction imposed a punishment? The state supreme court, however, steadfastly demurs reflexively noting it “has long held that ‘the objective of disciplinary proceedings is to protect the public, the profession and the administration of justice and not to punish the offender.’” Alcorn, 202 Ariz. at 74, 41 P.3d at 612 (2002) (quoting In re Kastensmith, 101 Ariz. 291, 294, 419 P.2d 75, 78 (1966).

All the same, one can’t help but be reminded of the oft-quoted spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child sop: This hurts me more than it hurts you.” Like sanctions ‘to protect not to punish,’ the words are counterintuitive cold comfort for those on the receiving end.

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Photo Credits: Dog gif “Really,” at Giphy.com; “As we see ’em,” at Wikimedia Commons;“As we see ’em,” at Wikimedia Commons; Building gif, at Giphy.com; Stuart_Chapin_and_Company_(3093686330).jpg at Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

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https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/a/almogaver/preview/fldr_2008_11_07/file000136151699.jpgYesterday, Arizona took one more step toward reforming the way lawyers are regulated in the state. By a vote of 31-29, the Arizona House passed HB2295. This bill splits the State Bar of Arizona into two subsets. One preserves the mandatory membership character in order to function as an independent regulatory quasi-agency that makes paramount the protection of the public from unethical lawyers. The other subset becomes a voluntary organization that engages solely in the kinds of non-regulatory activities more traditionally associated with professional trade associations. It’s worth watching the HB2295 floor debate here starting at the 3:34 minute mark.

A conflicted identity.

Politicians 81Like mandatory bars elsewhere, the Arizona Bar suffers from what former Wisconsin State Bar President Steven Levine once described as “a schizophrenic identity.”

In a just published post at The Legal Watchdog, Wisconsin lawyer, blogger, author and scholar Michael Cicchini mentions the article, State Bar’s limits on financial transparency create budgetary blind spots (subscription required) where author James Briggs writes that “The State Bar straddles a line between being a state agency, under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, and a private corporation, which is not compelled to share financial information even with the people elected to govern it.” The author then quotes Levine on the Wisconsin Bar.

FunHouse 119But Levine could just as easily be referring to Arizona’s Bar while talking about Wisconsin, “When it comes to the advantages of being a state entity . . . they claim to be a state agency.  But when they want to act in private or in secret and avoid all public requirements state agencies are required to follow, they say they’re just a private organization.”1

Case in point when I filed a public records request last July with the State Bar of Arizona asking for lobbying expenditure disclosures concerning its opposition to bar reform legislation, the Bar’s response included the following lawyer doublespeak: “However, without waiving our right to assert any future objections applicable to a nonprofit organization either by rule or statute, this organization believes in transparency and will provide answers when possible.”

arizona_bar_frank2

Can’t serve two masters or walk around with two heads.

Two hats for two heads.2

By deunifying the regulator/trade association functions, HB2295 solves the longtime problem the State Bar of Arizona has been burdened with, which is trying to serve two masters by wearing two hats for two heads. The result has been an irreconcilable conflict of interest. Why? Because the interests of the public and the interests of lawyers are not the same. More often than not, they are in conflict.

Consequently, the State Bar should not simultaneously serve the interests of the public and the interests of the legal profession. If it truly means to protect the public, then the interests of the public have to be foremost. Because HB2295 separates the State Bar’s regulatory and disciplinary functions from the State Bar’s trade association services and activities, it improves the protection of the public from lawyers who violate the canons of professional ethics.

Moreover, by dividing the regulatory and disciplinary functions from its lawyer trade association activities and transferring all regulation to the Arizona Supreme Court, HB2295 helps to bring lawyer regulation more fully compliant with the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC.

In Dental Examiners, the nation’s high court ruled that state regulatory bodies controlled by “active market participants” – such as practicing lawyers -­ are not immune from federal antitrust laws. The solution then, as provided under paragraph B of HB2295 is “active supervision” by the state Supreme Court or by an independent body under the Court — not controlled by practicing lawyers. Despite the recent work of a Court State Bar task force, the State Bar of Arizona continues to operate under a lawyer-dominant governing board elected by lawyers.

HB2295 now moves to the Arizona Senate where the State Bar of Arizona hopes its lobbyists and well-paid executives can sustain a firewall sufficient to stop the spread of reform.

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1 Some 14 years ago, in a First Amendment suit against the State Bar of Arizona brought by former bar member Edmund Kahn, the U.S. District Court for Arizona in an unpublished opinion discussed whether a state bar was entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Arizona Bar, which usually asserts it’s a private association not a state agency, tried in this instance to hide behind the Eleventh Amendment by claiming a “level of integration between the State Bar and the Arizona Supreme Court.” The Court distinguished the cases the State Bar invoked, which were Bates v. State Bar of Arizona involving lawyer discipline; Hoover v. Ronwin concerning bar exams and another discipline case in O’Connor v. State of Nevada. The District Court stated that when it comes to cases that generally challenge either the state bar’s disciplinary function or its function administering bar exams and admitting new lawyers, “the state bar clearly acts as an arm of the Arizona Supreme Court in regulating the practice of law.” But the District Court next made a most critical distinction, “In this case, Plaintiff challenges the way in which the state bar spends mandatory dues on non-regulatory functions and the bar’s procedures for addressing objections to its spending. Because this suit challenges the bar’s spending on non-regulatory programs, the link between the state bar and the Arizona Supreme Court is more tenuous.” The Court then went on to declare that the State Bar, a “non-profit corporation” did not qualify as a state agency for Eleventh Amendment purposes because among other factors, it also maintained “its own treasury and any award of damages would come from the state bar’s funds rather than the state treasury.”

2 Cartoon inspired by a bar executive’s email reference to a lawmaker last session counterintuitively overlooking the Bar’s own 800 lb Chimera in its parlor when describing a bifurcated state bar as “Frankenstein.”

 

 

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https://i1.wp.com/cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/s/sideshowmom/preview/fldr_2005_04_20/file0002043695191.jpghttps://i0.wp.com/cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/s/Seemann/11/l/14170495919qjki.jpgProving there are turkeys after Thanksgiving, a couple of career law school académicos opined in Black Friday’s Washington Post championing “low-bono” legal services so that “talented young lawyers will devote an early stage of their career to communities in need.”

William Treanor, Georgetown Law Center Executive Vice President, Dean and Professor of Law, and Jane Aiken, Vice Dean, Associate Dean (Experiential Education) and Professor of Law at the same school, are the noblesse oblige promoters of that well-worn access to justice idea. The glut of new, unemployed young lawyers, they reckon, can charge “affordable fees” so that working people earning too much to qualify for legal aid can obtain legal representation.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/09/Ivory_Towers_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1650865.jpg/180px-Ivory_Towers_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1650865.jpgSince most people can’t afford to hire a lawyer, low-bono is a laudable enough idea — even if it comes from a pair of insular ivory tower inhabitants who from their CVs appear not to have any experience running their own law practices where they had to make their monthly nut.

This lack of real-world client-contact lawyer experience, however, is hardly disqualifying for Ivory Tower residency, as my buddy The Legal Watchdog has often pointed out. And so they blithely declare,“While pro-bono work is offered for free, the low-bono models provide adequate financial support for attorneys.” So much for the cursory conjecture of the comfortably clueless.

Young business man standing pulling his pockets inside out uid“Lower-income residents who don’t qualify for free legal aid but can’t afford lawyers suffer devastating consequences in court,” they complain citing the sad tale of a sixty year-old widow evicted from her home. “And yet even as they fall, unrepresented, through the cracks, we keep hearing about a glut of unemployed lawyers, many of them recent law-school graduates,” as though vaguely remembering a regurgitated classroom abstraction. Harder to ignore is the haughty self-serving skepticism, “we keep hearing about a glut of unemployed lawyers.” This must mean if they don’t believe it — it must not be true.

The reality is that for some time, it’s been well documented that new lawyers graduate with “soul crushing, crippling” six-figure debt. Indeed, the financial obligations are so humongous that it’s impossible for them to service those loans without a reasonably paying job. And while the economy has improved since the depths of the recession, good paying law-related work is still hard to come by. So it’s hard to conceive how jobless, low-income or no income recent law school graduates straddled with over $150,000 in debt will be in any position to “devote an early stage of their career to communities in need” when they themselves are card-carrying members of those communities.

You’d think these two well-placed high level Georgetowners would know better. Or that they’d concede at least to save face, that law school graduate debt is no abstraction — especially at Georgetown. According to the latest US News & World Report, Georgetown University  is 12th on the list of “Which law school graduates have the most debt?” with an average 2014 graduate indebtedness of $150,529 and with 79% of its grads with debt.

Any news from the jungle? | by HikingArtist.com

But unfortunately, with very few exceptions, law school professors, deans and administrators would rather not acknowledge the elephant-sized schools vs. students conflict of interest or the post-graduate employment risks and high cost realities of attending law school. As Pulitzer Prize winning NY Times writer David Segal famously wrote 4 years ago: “Legal diplomas have such allure that law schools have been able to jack up tuition four times faster than the soaring cost of college. And many law schools have added students to their incoming classes — a step that, for them, means almost pure profits — even during the worst recession in the legal profession’s history.”

Being very smart, though, I have no doubt there’s one reality they can’t ignore: “Fewer and Fewer Students Are Applying to Law School.” Also see: “Enrollment at Law Schools Continues to Decline.”

In the end, the solution, which they will eventually come to albeit not quietly and not before some law schools close will be an approach along the lines just recommended for universities by Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein. He advocates greatly improving productivity, cutting overhead and lowering the overall tuition cost. See “Four tough things universities should do to rein in costs.”

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Grape eating contest | by denverkid

Proponents also speciously called the whole thing an “authorization” to increase dues and not a dues increase. And a “kick me” sign is not an inducement for a foot to the backside.

So citing oaths, obligations, and the special snowflake status of lawyers, the petitioners hoped to add Florida to the list of jurisdictions such as Minnesota and Wisconsin where as a condition to practice, state supreme courts tax lawyers to fund civil legal services. The other states that impose mandatory civil legal aid assessments are Indiana, Illinois, Texas, Missouri and Pennsylvania. And not to be outdone, at a $100 Florida’s tax would have been the highest.

"Peel Me a Grape" | by basykesIn December, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments on the petition. Noteworthy was this scriptural riposte courtesy of Justice James Perry, “To much who is given, much is expected.”  Of course the easiest burdens to bear are somebody else’s.

‘Don’t worry about the mule going blind, keep loading the wagon.’

https://i2.wp.com/www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Earnings-of-solo-practitioners.png

Speaking, then, of the noble obligations of the so-called privileged, just last month I read about the falling average earnings of solo legal practitioners. Solos and small firms generally represent two-thirds of most U.S. lawyers.

In the last 25 years, average solo pay has fallen from $75,000 to $50,000 according to data compiled by University of Tennessee Law School Professor Benjamin Barton and cited in Professor Paul Campos’ post, The Collapsing Economics of Solo Legal Practice. Professor Barton’s new book, Glass Half Full: The Decline and Rebirth of the American Legal Profession was published last month.

And no matter that lawyer unemployment remains a problem in Florida or that 44% of all respondents to the Florida Bar’s last lawyer economics and law office management survey reported their business/profitability had decreased the past two years. In the same survey, almost 40% said they didn’t expect things to get better in the near future.

And then there’s this. According to Law School Transparency, nearly 85 percent of law graduates financed law school through student loans. The average debt incurred for 2010 law graduates was $77,364 at public law schools and $112,007 at private institutions. See “Burdened With Debt, Law School Graduates Struggle in Job Market.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware that legal aid programs across the country are in continual budgetary crisis. And I’m not quibbling with the need, the rationale, or the petitioners’ parade of horribles. My objection is over the means. When did fixing a longstanding societal problem become the sole obligation of lawyers? By comparison, are physicians and dentists as a condition of practicing their professions likewise required to pony up for indigent healthcare services?

Fortunately for Florida lawyers — but not so much for legal aid advocates, petition opponents prevailed. Stating that the “issue requires further study and a more comprehensive approach,” the Florida Supremes declined to adopt the proposed amendment.”

Hat tip to The Legal Watchdog  for passing along the latest moves afoot in Florida.

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Photo Credits: “grape eating contest,” by denverkid at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; “peel me a grape,” by Bev Sykes at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.

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